Courts seek funding hike

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January 13, 2017 - 12:00 AM

After a study found Kansas Judicial Branch personnel are among the lowest-paid in the country, a $20 million request by the courts for raises is in the hands of the Legislature.

The budget sent to the Legislature Wednesday by Governor Sam Brownback and budget director Shawn Sullivan includes the additional $20 million for salaries and wages for the Judiciary. State law requires the governor to submit the Judicial Branch’s portion of the larger state budget without changes or recommendations.

If the additional funding is approved by the Legislature, the Judicial Branch’s budget would be $156 million for fiscal year 2018, which runs from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. The $20 million increase would be 15 percent more than the current year’s $136 million budget.

The funding request for raises comes after a 2016 compensation study by the National Center for State Courts found that every job classification is paid below the market average.

“We are the first state that they have studied that has every job in the judicial branch paid below fair market value,” said Daniel Creitz, chief judge of the 31st Judicial District. “Every job in the Judicial Branch is below market.”

 

The percent below the market average varies from 4.6 to 22.2 percent.

 

Trial court clerk II and court services officer I classifications are paid 17.8 percent below the market rate, yet these entry-level positions comprise about 700 of the Judicial Branch’s employees statewide.

 

There are 1,862.30 full-time equivalent positions, making Kansas court’s the sixth-largest employer in all of state government, according to the governor’s budget proposal.

 

A FACT SHEET provided by Creitz, whose 31st Judicial District includes Allen, Neosho, Wilson and Woodson counties, detailed the effects stagnant wages have on a trial court clerk II employee. Creitz is involved with talking to legislators about the $20 million funding request.

 

In 2010, a trial court clerk II earned $22,000 in take-home pay. In 2017, that number has shrunk to $19,000. The $3,000 drop does not include inflation.

 

Trial court clerk II is one of nine job classes with starting wages below the 2016 federal poverty guideline of $24,300 for a four-person household.

 

 

Creitz said the 2008 Legislature approved a raise for state government employees implemented over three years, but the Judicial Branch only received the first of the three years. The executive branch received all their steps.

 

Then in 2014, a 2 percent raise was negated by an increase in health insurance and a 2 percent increase in the employee contribution to KPERS tier 1, the retirement fund for state employees.

 

“Did (salaries) raise 2 percent? Yes,” Creitz said. “Did they get anything? No, because it was offset by KPERS and health insurance.”

 

Automatic cost of living raises were also eliminated by the Brownback administration.

 

JUDGES at all levels in Kansas are also underpaid, according to the National Center for State Courts study.

 

Kansas district court judges rank 50th in the country, including the District of Columbia. A Kansas district court judge earns $120,037 while the national average is $151,624.

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